What So Many New College Grads Get So Wrong About Personal Branding

If you recently graduated from college, or will be soon, I’m sure you know you need to work on your personal brand. And if you’re like many college graduates, you probably are dreading this aspect of the job hunt, not to mention the job hunt altogether. I get it;  finding your first real job out of college is a big deal and stressful life event, but I’m here to tell you that engaging in authentic and aligned personal branding can be one of the best things you can do to empower your job hunt. 

I will get to the “authentic” and “aligned” aspects of personal branding in just a minute. Let’s deal with the term “personal branding” first. We all pretty much have an idea of what a personal brand means: how we sell ourselves to potential employers. Yes, the “branding”  lingo and the idea of needing to sell one’s self can tinge it with superficiality  —  something that seems invented, spinned, clever or not quite authentic. But the fact is that you do have to authentically present yourself to potential employers, and you have to consciously communicate to them what your potential value as an employee is. So personal branding is not good or bad. It’s just necessary. 

You will get out of your brand what you put in

When we treat personal branding superficially, it will be superficial. When we approach it with fear (I have no experience), a sense of unfairness (I work hard, and I know I can do it, so why isn’t that enough?) or gloom (the online application system is a black hole) it will be unpleasant and stressful. Truthfully, you can even approach personal branding with a negative attitude and still get a very good job, but you will be missing the bigger opportunity  —  to align your inner beliefs and values with your outer behavior and persona. That’s how to be authentic  —  when the inside you and the outside you match up. 

Mistake #1 – Letting the Inner Critic define you 

When you authentically develop, nurture and allow yourself to evolve with your personal brand, you have an opportunity to align your inner attitude with who you really are in the outer world and not necessarily with who you think you are. Remember, a lot of your identity is based on the lies your inner critic is telling you: You’ll never find a job; your resume is just not good enough; you don’t have any good experience; you had the wrong major, you have nothing concrete to offer an employer … 

To engage in personal branding without challenging your inner critic and doing some honest self reflection is mistake number one that many job seekers make. However, when you engage in personal branding as an intentional and reflective process, it can be a powerful opportunity to shed the negative beliefs your inner critic keeps dredging up. You have the opportunity to reframe past negative experiences as learning experiences versus proof that you’re a screw up or just generally unprepared for the real world. Some of the best stories you can tell about yourself in an interview are what you learned by screwing something up and learning from it.

Example: You were once on a group project and did not assert yourself and speak up when another team member didn’t do the work. You learned a valuable lesson that problem team members get away with bad behavior when the rest of the team is silent . This lesson served you well later when ____________ [fill in the story.] 

The end result of this very intentional and conscious process: You have a healthy, realistic and authentic self image as a young professional. You know what you do well and you know what you need to work on to evolve personally and professionally. You also know what matters to you personally and spiritually.  

Yes, spiritually matters in personal branding!

You can’t leave your soul out of the job equation. You’re a human being and a spirit being and both need to be a part of the equation. Yes, you need to pay your bills and get health insurance, but what kind of work will nourish your soul and give your life meaning? Once you silence the Inner Critic, you can better hear and connect with your innermost self who knows what matters to you, what is meaningful to you and what your true purpose in life is or will be. We all want our lives to mean something, but what? Your spirit self knows, and will help you find and express what is uniquely yours to create and do in this world. It certainly won’t happen overnight. It may take years to fully unfold, but it will happen, and it will happen a lot faster if you gag the Inner Critic now so you don’t get distracted and railroaded from knowing and living in harmony with your true self.

When what you do for work (outer) is in balance with what is personally and spiritually important to you (inner), your true purpose will be revealed faster. You can’t live a lie and be spiritually happy, so if you take a job that you know will be boring (to you) just to make a lot of money, that is not going to sustain you for the long haul. If you stay in a job you hate out of fear of losing your benefits, that will drain you spiritually. If you take a job because your parent pressured you into it, you are not being authentic and that feels bad. You cannot lie to yourself about your work and get away with it for very long. Work is too important. We spend too much time doing it for it to be unimportant, boring or stressful. When you use personal branding as a way to consciously and intentionally align your inner and outer selves, your personal brand can serve as a kind of career and even life guidance system.   

Yes, you really do have purpose

And if you just read the paragraph above and thought, I don’t think I have a true purpose or a mission or I’m not very creative, that’s just your Inner Critic throwing shade at you. We all have purpose. We all have something that we are uniquely qualified to bring forth to do and be in the world. Maybe you’re called to help others, entertain people, connect people, help save the Earth, create art, build community… Whatever it is, we’re all called to do something, be something. What that is for you, how you will express helping others or saving the Earth, may be one thing, or many things that evolve and change over time. The point is not the what so much as honoring whatever the what is when it shows up and believing it’s there in the first place.

We are all creators; we just get scared and we think it’s easier for everyone else. Yes, some people have clear artistic or athletic ability. Some do have a calling or a life vision from an early age. Still others may have a sudden and profound revelation about what their life’s work should be … But for most of us, finding our life’s work is a slower unfolding, and there will be some hardship and it will likely be an unknown and winding road filled with some potholes, but that’s just the nature of life and how we grow. You can’t avoid pain and difficulty in your personal or professional life. The choice you have is how you react and what you do about it when you’re faced with negativity. Will you embrace not knowing and allow the unfolding, even when times get tough? Or will you curl into a ball and pretend it’s okay to not like your job because you need to pay your rent?

Mistake #2 – You’re not the only winner when you get a job

The other aspect of alignment in personal branding is that you understand the winner here is not simply you for getting the job. Most of us feel incredibly grateful to be chosen and hired, and that’s natural. But don’t forget: Your employer and all the people you will work with win because they will benefit from your value and what you will bring forth that no one else can. There is a winner on both sides. They are lucky to have you. Don’t forget that. You have value and worth, even as a new employee.

Here is how branding expert Jessica Zweig puts it:

(Do yourself a favor and listen to Jessica’s interview. She will inspire you.)

It can be a struggle for recent graduates, young professionals or career changers to truly know and believe in their value and worth, but this is absolutely key to an authentic  and aligned personal brand. You may not have a lot of experience right now, but you are worthy. You will add value wherever you work because you have unique gifts and abilities to share with whomever you work. You have talents that will be valued by a team and your managers. You don’t even know them all yet, but believe that these gifts and talents will unfold and be revealed to you. This is true for everyone, so why would it not be true for you? This is what the Inner Critic is afraid you will realize, how worthy you are, because once you do, its hold over you weakens and you’re free!   

Put an APB out on your dream job

So here then is how I define Aligned Personal Branding, or APB, for short: Knowing what you’re good at, believing an employer will recognize and value your potential contribution and honoring what matters to you personally and spiritually, in the here and now. You are evolving and changing all the time, and so will your personal brand. You may be starting out by knowing more about what you don’t want to do: sit at a desk for eight hours a day or deal with customer problems… But at least honor what is true about you. Don’t talk yourself out of it. (Example: If you truly value sustainability you can’t work for a fast-fashion brand and feel good about that.) 

Will engaging in this process take some work? Yes, and it may take a leap of faith at first. But intentionally and consciously engaging in developing your APB will help you overcome at least some of your stress and fear about finding a job. You will have some quiet and peaceful moments. But here is the truth, and I have told hundreds of nervous young graduates the same: Don’t take a job knowing it’s not right for you. You will eventually find the right job; you really will. I promised them, and I will promise you. They did and you will too. You can either do it with heaps of stress and fear, or you can approach it in a more empowering way where you acknowledge your fear, but you choose to ignore it. You may have to work hard at overcoming your Inner Critic at first. You may need some counseling help if you’re suffering from depression and anxiety, but if you stay conscious and aware of your thoughts, you will prevail.

If you’re ready to get started, I will be posting your first aligned personal branding exercise later, so check back, or follow my blog so you don’t miss it. Let me know what you think of this post and my approach to aligned personal branding. Leave me a comment below, and if you love it, please share it!

As always, stay present and stay connected to you. The present moment is where all the magic in your life happens! 

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